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Monday, March 31, 2008

Three Cousins Have Not Been Together As Group for Over 40 Years

In the 50s and 60s - we would all gather at my grandmother's home every Sunday on Broad Street in Tamaqua. She was Bertha Brouse Everhart Hontz. She had 4 kids. Her kids are all gone - but lots of grandkids are still alive and active.

Here are my cousIns - Bob Schleicher and Carl Zimmerman. Bob's Mom Grace was my Dad's younger sister. Carl's Dad Carl was my Dad's older half brother.

Bob worked for Bell Telephone and is retired now. Carl worked for Pennsylvania Power and Light - he is also retired. Bob still lives back home in Pennsylvania - Carl splits his time between a home in Tamaqua and a home near Tampa.

We gathered at my house - and now there is talk of an Everhart Family Reunion.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Trailing Spouse Drops Home Telephone and Goes to Exclusive Cellphone Use

Lulu loves her telephone. She loves to talk to family back home. She
loves to check up on her kids' adventures.

To me - the telephone is one of the greatest inventions of all time.
It is amazing - with just the punching of 10 digits - one can speak to
almost anyone in the world - just as long you know their number.

For 30 years we had the same telephone number back in Pennsylvania.
When we first got the phone - long distance calls were expensive. I
remember having to give up a girlfriend mainly because calls to her
were 5 cents a minute - and Cokes were only 5 cents. Needless to say -
I wanted more of the latter than the former. Bell Telephone had a
monopoly and if you wanted a phone - you paid the piper. Any color of
phone was available as long as it was a black desk model.

Then - our government decided to break up the telephone company
offering competition in the market. The rest is history. Now we have
several telephone plans to choose from. We have thousands of different
styles and colors of phones with infinite features - like answering
services and different ring tones. You can have your phone warn you
when your mother in law is calling with a different alarming sound.

Probably the biggest innovation was the cellphone. With the cell phone
- one can have a telephone anywhere they want it without being attach
with a wire. Even when driving down the highway at 70 MPH - the
telephone keeps you connected during a phone call as it hands off the
signal from tower to tower every few miles. All of this is done
transparently - you just keep talking.

The price of telephone service has dropped dramatically. In 1994 - we
bought our first cellphone. Lulu drove a long distance to work - and
we walked the safety feature in case her car broke down. At the time -
the cost for $30 a month for 30 minutes. The price was high by today's
standards - but in an emergency it was money well spent.

When we moved to Tallahassee 4 years ago - we had a home telephone and
cellphones. We were not used to all the nuisance calls we received.
Not just sales calls and wrong numbers - but survey calls and
political calls. Even when we put our phone on the "do not call" list
- we kept getting calls from politicians. Also - the person that had
our phone number before us was very popular. After a while - I started
answering all the calls for "Morgan" with "one minute while she puts
her clothes back on."

The one that pushed me over the age was all the political phone calls
during the 2006 election. That was it. I called up Verizon and said,
"Please disconnect our home telelphone." After offering me all sorts
of discounts and plans - they finally let me go. We were free of the
"land line."

The first thing you think about is one less bill to pay. But there are
many other benefits besides the money.

One of the benefits of a cell phone only - no reviewing a bunch of
calls on the answering machine when you get home. No more missing
important calls - with a cell phone they come right to your pocket.

With a cell phone - you can screen your cars immediately. Although I
never ignore a call - you can just look at the screen to see who is
calling. If you have the phone set on vibrate - no one else but you
knows when someone is calling. Since I keep my phone in my right front
pocket - although sometime I do not hear the phone with my hearing - I
certainly feel it there.

Even when you are on a trip - your phone calls travel with you. The
person calling you has no idea where you are. They usually assume you
are in your home or office. They never know you are on a tropical
beach unless you blurt out, "Guess where I am - Hawaii!" One can call
in sick from anywhere - and the boss is never sure.

One of the nice things about having just one phone number is when
filling our form on line or in the doctor's office - only one number
to contact - and you can keep that phone number forever - even if you
move across the country.

Many of the features on a cellphone are on regular telephones now -
they just seem to be easier to use on the cellphone. One of my
favorites is speed dialing. I can call Lulu - just by pressing one
digit on the phone. Same way for my kids. Also if someone calls you -
your cellphone immediately records their number so you can return the
call. It has gotten so good - I sometimes forget my phone number - and
have no idea what my kids' phone numbers are. I just press one button
and - bam- they are on the line.
Some people just can't give up that home telephone. It is a security
blanket. They love looking in the phone book - feeling important when
they see their name. Also - make no mistake - the land line is still a
better connection. Sometimes - when using a cellphone - only one
person can talk at a time - and the callers "walk over each other."
This only happens when you have a poor connection - maybe the tower is
too far away.

Another great feature is family plans. If everyone in your family is
using the same company - all of their calls are free to each other.
Most cellphone companies offer free weekend calling and free calling
after 9 PM.

Prices have dropped dramatically. A typical family plan of 4 phones
and 700 minutes a month costs about $80. Remember - weekend calls are
free and calls to family are free. So that is a lot of phone calls.
Imagine that 4 people - 4 cellphones - it comes out to about $20 a
month per person. In our family - we have kids in Syracuse and
Washington - and helps is always only one button away.

I won't even get into text messages - taking and sending pictures -
and transferring files. Also - about 4 years ago - I was hooking my
cellphone up to my computer and getting on the Internet for free. Now
they have special little modems to put in your computer to surf the
net and check email.

With each new cellphone - the service gets better and better - also
cheaper and cheaper.

This summer I will be trailing Lulu to London - my next phone report
will be using cellphones to call overseas.

After 2 years of exclusive cellphone use - I will never go back to the
old black home telephone. "Once you leave black - you will never come

Sunday, March 23, 2008

George and Joel Off To India

One of my favorite jobs is taking my friends to the airport.

Here is George and Joel leaving town for 3 weeks in India. Their camera bag is stocked and they are off to the wilderness to take pictures of hopefully some Bengal Tigers. Most of the trip they will be on their own.

So add that to Wayne and Shirley in New Zealand - it looks like we will be "home alone" for a few weeks.

Joel and Shirley have two of the prettiest gardens in the neighborhood - too bad they will not be home to see all the beautiful springtime flowers.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Where Does The Trailing Spouse Do Spring Break?

Back North, spring break meant only one thing to us, piling the family
into our motor home and driving 1000 miles to spend a few days in
Florida. After that overnight drive, we arrived in the Sunshine State
exhausted, but at least we could lie in the sun and go home sun
burned. We always wondered what Florida folks do for spring break.

Now we have our chance, as Florida residents it is spring break time.
Where will we go? Our friends, Fred and Ethel, have a beach house in
St Pete Beach and right before I put them on the plane to New Zealand
for their spring break, it took me less than two seconds to grab the
keys they offered.

Lulu always says to keep me happy during travel I must have lots of
toys and snacks. She says the only difference in travel now is that
she only has to tend to one kid, not three. If she wants to spend
endless hours on the beach, I must be occupied.

In the old days, we had a camper and a map. We would get on I-95 and
put on the automatic pilot. Today, we have tons of toys to keep me
happy. Who said the old days were so good?

It all starts out with a GPS, Global Positioning System. Our new unit
has maps of the USA, Canada, Mexico, and every country in Europe. You
choose your destination and it is like having two back seat drivers as
both the lady on the GPS and Lulu are giving me directions in stereo.
It tells you how long the trip will take. If you press on the gas
pedal, the arrival time changes. Not a bad toy because beside showing
all this "essential" information it tells you where every hotel,
restaurant, gas station is. Before, my trip was ruled by the "brown
signs" of historic places, now they are all on the GPS.

In the old days, one would always be fidgeting with the AM/FM radio.
Now thanks to satellite radio, you have hundreds of crystal clear
stations, the same ones you have at home. It is like traveling with an
old friend, even if it is only 24 hours of Howard Stern.

Having a DVD player in the van is pretty neat, but what good does that
do the driver? You can't watch the screen. It does allow Lulu to go in
the back seats and catch up on episodes of "All My Children." She
turns from a back seat driver to a backseat TV watcher. It does
eliminate one female voice, maybe it does help me driving after all.

Lulu always packs a cooler full of snacks and drinks. This year she
bought a sun shelter tent. She figures that if she has a shady place
for me to read or nap, I might spend more hours on the beach. One more
item for the pack mule to lug across the sand. Don't even ask about
the first setup.

But the latest and greatest toy, a wireless modem, has been added to
the toy box. It is a little device the size of a pack of gum. You plug
it into the side of your laptop and you have wireless internet
anywhere at broadband speed. Although I already spend way too much
time on the Net, this allows me to search the net and read the
Tallahassee Democrat "On the beach, in the car, in the hotel, any
where you are...." It is almost like never leaving home.

So we have the answer to what people in Northern Florida do on spring
break, they drive to Southern Florida. And they get a chance to sit on
the beach, and instead of contemplating their navel or other peoples'
navels, they can blog friends and family back North.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Trailing Spouse Deals with Senility at Age 60

Lulu had to make a short trip to Las Vegas and Washington DC. I did not want to waste the price of airfare - so I stayed home. We had just completed trips to Reno and Phoenix - and I had enough snow after the Syracuse trip - two weeks ago. Lulu would have to see the Beatles Show at Cirque De Soleil and watch the Seminoles play Carolina at the Sports Book - without me - how can she manage?

My friends - Fred and Ethel - are going to New Zealand. Whenever they fly - I like to take them to the airport. They return the favor when we go somewhere. I called Fred and said that I would take them out to TLH Airport. He said they were flying early and that they would take a cab. I insisted - and set the alarm for 6 AM.

Since Lulu had put $20 on the Seminoles plus 16.5 points - I returned to the television with added interest in the game. The Seminoles took a lead and visions of an upset and a trip to the Big Dance ended when the Seminoles ran out of gas and the number one team in the nation shot ahead.

I went to bed before the 11 o'clock news - I did not want to be late in the morning. The retired trailing spouse has so few deadlines - I did not want to miss this one. Lulu usually handles our calendar.

Today - Wednesday at 6 AM - the alarm went off. I washed and brushed my teeth - put on my clothes that I had laid out like a fireman - and bolted toward the van. I drove over to Fred and Ethel's - the house was dark. The air outside was crisp and quiet - a beautiful Tallahassee morning - a great setting for a horror movie.

I had to react fast. What should I do?

A. They had overslept and I would be a hero to wake them up.

B. I was late and they called a cab and went to the airport.

C. Carbon monoxide from the fireplace had overcome them.

I rang the doorbell several times. As soon as the lights came on - I realized that it was Wednesday - and they were flying Thursday.

D. Just then Fred came to the door half nude - and I reminded him that they fly to New Zealand - THURSDAY.

I slinked back into the van - and returned home wide awake and - feeling old and senile.

But not too worry - Lulu reminded me that in the game last night Tony Douglas went on a last second scoring spree. The Seminoles were losing by 23 points - but the final score was 90 - 77. The Seminole beat the spread and we were $20 richer!

Such is the life of the senile "unTrailing Spouse." How can Lulu ever get along without me?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Trailing Spouse Gets Passport in Record Time

Lulu has just found out that she is teaching a 6 week course this summer at the FSU London Campus. Since I must go along to carry her bags - and my passport ran out this year - we had to apply for new passports. After all the horror stories in the media - we decided to apply early.

It started as a trip to the post office. We figured everything could be done there - photo - apply - pay - and get the passport sent to our home. Wrong. There is a special passport booth there - it looks very inviting - until you read the sign next to the booth. "To renew passport - do not talk to the person in the booth - take application from this pocket." The pocket was empty.

Fearing I would be yelled at for talking to the passport booth person - I meekly said there were no applications in the pocket. The passport person filled the pocket - I grabbed 2 and went home.

The biggest hassle beside the $67 check - was getting pictures 2 inches by 2 inches. More specifically - the head must be between 1 inch and 1 and 3/8 inches from top to chin. Specifically - it is hard to decide where my chin ends.

We select a nice white wall with plenty of light on it. Our digital camera takes nice pictures - so we tried both flash and no flash. The pictures came out fine. After that - you must print the pictures out on glossy paper. You must also make sure the head is no larger than 1 and 3/8 inches. That took a few minutes.

You have a choice to have regular service for $67 and then their was an additional charge for fast service. Being a tightwad - I chose to take my chances on the cheaper fee.

The service was unbelievable. We mailed the applications last Tuesday - we checked on the computer and they cashed the checks Wednesday - and the passports were in our mailbox Friday! Not bad for a round trip in the mail to Philadelphia.

The passports look just like the old ones. But somewhere buried inside is an electronic chip. I can't seem to find it - but it is in there. Supposedly - the passport can be read by a computer that gets close to it. Here is the rub - people may be able to hack or steal information from it.

Do you re-call when cell phones first came out - allowing hackers to steal your phone code just by driving near your car. I remember once getting a phone bill for $1600 when someone cloned our old cell "bag phone" and called to their friends in the Middle East.

Checking on the Internet - I found a story of a guy that picked up someone's information and made a perfect clone of their new passport in 3 hours.

After reading other stories - some people have been waiting months for their passports. Maybe they got the system moving better - maybe we were lucky.

It is fun seeing a story in the media that is usually an extreme case and they pass it on as normal - just like I am passing off this 3 day passport story as the norm. Your mileage may vary.